David Cobb (G) on privacy & freedom

A presidential candidate has an IP policy. Whoo-hoo!

David Cobb, Green Party presidential candidate, doesn’t like genetic patents, thinks the patent system needs reform, is proud his website is on open source software, and thinks we should codify caselaw striking down shrinkwrap licenses. (Take that, BNetd case!)

(A recent Dan Gillmor column shows that by contrast neither Kerry nor Bush have any sense of the public interest in intellectual property law. [10/4])

Mainstream Perception

The Green Party is best known for its progressive policies on the environment, however its other policies are often shrouded by this, most people not knowing where the Green Party stands on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

What do you think might be the best approach to educate the masses about the rest of Green Party polices? [sic]

Greens work both within and outside of the electoral system for genuine democracy, social and racial justice, a healthy environment and for peace and non-violence. We have to march both in the streets and into the ballot box. If we do one and not the other, we won’t be successful. All great social movements have used this approach.

Greens believe in freedom and privacy. We support same-sex marriage and reproductive choice.

Nice point: privacy and autonomy are mutually reinforcing. Many fundamental rights that Americans take for granted are protected under the conservative-derided right to privacy.

Copyright and Digital Law

Obviously we here at slashdot are a bit on the techie side. I know that I have personally watched my rights being taken away from me over the past few years. Mainly my right to fair use. Under current law it is illegal to watch CSS encoded DVDs under Linux or any other Open Source operating system. What are you and your party’s feelings on loosening certain restrictions to make the act of fair use a right again.

Also, on the concept of intellectual property and copyright laws. What are your party’s and your feelings on the current trend of extending the length of copyright terms? Do you have any plans to reverse the current trend or perhaps to set the lengths back to their original terms?

Nick, first let’s look at what the Green Party’s platform says about open source: copyrights:

10. The Green Party supports protection of software (free or proprietary) by means of the copyright. We strongly oppose granting of software patents. Mathematical algorithms are discovered, not invented, by humans; therefore, they are not patentable. The overwhelming majority of software patents cover algorithms and should never have been awarded, or they cover message formats of some kind, which are essentially arbitrary. Format patents only exist to restrain competition, and the harm falls disproportionately on programmers who work independently or for the smallest employers.

Greens favor information flows that come from the grassroots and empower the grassroots. Excellent examples include free/open-source software, open document formats, and the Creative Commons Licenses. We recognize that creativity and productiveness do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, most innovations build on earlier innovations. Creators and producers should be entitled to seek financial compensation for their work – or not, as they choose – but to wall their work off from public access for unreasonable lengths of time is, well, unreasonable.

For most of the history of the US Patents and Copyrights Office, most patent applications were denied. Most “inventions” didn’t meet the triple test of being novel, useful/valuable, and not obvious to “someone skilled in the art.” Patents that were granted lasted 12 years which was considered to be a third of an invention’s useful life. Today, the patent office rubber stamps just about anything. We don’t need a new policy, we need the old policy. Let’s give standing to all stakeholders to challenge and strike down mistaken or overly broad patents, or patents granted despite the existence of prior art. (Besides genetic patents being a particularly vile abuse of corporate power, genes are, by definition, prior art. We oppose the genetic modification of organisms, as well, but that’s another topic.) There’s also a place for an eminent domain process for striking down a patent when there is an overriding public interest, as in the case of absurdly overpriced life-saving drugs.

In copyrights, as in patents, we favor not a new policy, but a return to the original, which provided for protection for 20 years.

If we get the general principle right, we won’t need a special policy for protecting proprietary digital artworks or people’s right to make fair use copies of them. But we do need a prohibition on abusive license agreements. The case law striking down “shrink wrap licenses” should be legislated. A valid contract provides an equal exchange of value: It’s not all prohibitions on one party while the other party has no obligations and retains all rights. It shouldn’t be legal for Microsoft, for example, to license its OS for use on only one particular CPU. That is, you shouldn’t have to buy a new copy of XP when you upgrade your motherboard. When you buy a movie on DVD you should be allowed to play it on any DVD player, and when you buy a copy of an OS you should be allowed to run it on all your computers. This should be a natural result of a more general prohibition on unfair contracts.

I am happy to say that our website is open source (Plone/Zope, running on BSD).

Slashdot | Green Party Candidate David Cobb Answers Your Questions

A candidate who actually can use the term “open source” and “BSD.”